Knowledge of Jesus Christ, as treated in this article, does not mean a summary of what we know about Jesus Christ, but a survey of the intellectual endowment of Christ. Jesus Christ possessing two natures, and therefore two intellects, the human and the Divine, the question as to the knowledge found in His Divine intellect is identical with the question concerning God‘s knowledge. The Arians, it is true, held that the Word Himself was ignorant of many things, for instance, of the day of judgment; in this they were consistent with their denial that the Word was consubstantial with the Omniscient God. The Agnoetm, too, attributed ignorance not merely to Christ’s human soul, but to the Eternal Word. Suicer, s.v. ‘Ayvoral, I, p. 65, says: “Hi docebant divinam Christi naturam. quaedam ignorance, ut horam extremi judicii”. But then, the Agnoetm were a sect of the Monophysites, and imagined a confusion of natures in Christ, after the Eutychian pattern, so as to attribute ignorance to that Divine nature into which His human nature (as they held) was absorbed. An honest profession of the Divinity of Christ necessitates the admission of omniscience in His Divine intellect.
I. KINDS OF KNOWLEDGE IN CHRIST’S HUMAN INTELLECT.—The Man–God possessed, not merely a Divine, but also a human nature, and therefore a human intellect, and with the knowledge possessed by this intellect we are here mainly concerned. The integrity of His human nature implies intellectual cognition by acts of its human intellect. Jesus Christ might be wise by the wisdom of God; yet the humanity of Christ knows by its own mental act. If we except Hugh of St. Victor, all theologians teach that the soul of Christ is elevated to participation in the Divine wisdom by an infusion of Divine light. For the soul of Christ enjoyed from the very beginning the beatific vision; it was endowed with infused knowledge; and it acquired in the course of time experimental knowledge.
(I). The Beatific Vision.—Petavius (De Incarnatione, I, xii, c. 4) maintains that there is no controversy among theologians, or even among Christians, as to the fact that the soul of Jesus Christ was endowed with the beatific vision (see Heaven) from the beginning of its existence. He knew God immediately in His essence, or, in other words, beheld Him face to face as the blessed in heaven. The great theologians freely grant that this doctrine is not stated in so many words in the books of Sacred Scripture, nor even in the writings of the early Fathers; but recent masters in theology do not hesitate to consider the contrary opinion as rash, though it was upheld by the pretended Catholic school of Gunther. The basis for the privilege of the beatific vision enjoyed by the human soul of Christ is its Hypostatic Union with the Word. This union implies a plenitude of grace and of gifts in both intellect and will. Such a fullness does not exist without the beatific vision. Again, by virtue of the Hypostatic Union the human nature of Christ is assumed into a unity of Divine person; it does not appear how such a soul could at the same time remain, like ordinary human beings, destitute of the vision of God to which they hope to attain only after their stay on earth is over. Once more, by virtue of the Hypostatic Union, Jesus, even as man, was the natural son of God, not a merely adoptive child; now, it would not be right to debar a deserving son from seeing the face of his father, an incongruity that would have taken place in the case of Christ, if His soul had been bereft of the beatific vision. And all these reasons show that the human soul of Christ must have seen God face to face from the very first moment of its creation.
Though Scripture does not state in explicit terms that Jesus was favored with the beatific vision, still it contains passages that imply this privilege: Jesus speaks as an eyewitness of things Divine (John, iii, 11 sqq.; i, 18; i, 31 sq.); any knowledge of God inferior to immediate vision is imperfect and unworthy of Christ (I Cor., xiii, 9-12); Jesus repeatedly asserts that He knows the Father and is known by Him, that He knows what the Father knows. There is a difficulty in reconciling Christ’s sufferings and surpassing great sorrow with the beatitude implied in His beatific vision. But if the Word could be united with the human nature of Christ without allowing Its glory to overflow into His sacred body, the happiness of the beatific vision too might be in the human soul of our Lord without overflowing into and absorbing His lower faculties, so that He might feel the pangs of sorrow and suffering. The same faculty may be simultaneously affected by sorrow and joy, resulting from the perception of different objects (cf. St. Thom., III, Q. xiii, a. 5, ad 3; St. Bonay., in III, dist. xvi, a. 2, q. 2); the martyrs have often testified to the ecstatic happiness with which God filled their souls, at the very time that their bodies were suffering the extremity of torment.
(2) Christ’s Infused Knowledge.—The existence of an infused science in the human soul of Jesus Christ may perhaps be less certain, from a theological point of view, than His continual and original fruition of the vision of God; still, it is almost universally admitted that God infused into Christ’s human intellect a knowledge similar in kind to that of the angels. This is knowledge which is not acquired gradually by experience, but is poured into the soul in one flood. This doctrine rests on theological grounds: the Man–God must have possessed all perfections except such as would be incompatible with His beatific vision, as faith or hope; or with His sinlessness, as penance; or again, with His office of Redeemer, which would be incompatible with the consummation of His glory. Now, infused knowledge is not incompatible with Christ’s beatific vision, nor with His sinlessness, nor again with His office of Redeemer. Besides, the soul of Christ is the first and most perfect of all created spirits, and cannot be deprived of a privilege granted to the angels. Moreover, a created intellect is simply perfect only when, besides the vision of things in God, it has a vision of things in themselves; God only sees all things comprehensively in Himself. The God–Man, besides seeing them in God, would also perceive and know them by His human intellect. Finally, Sacred Scripture favors the existence of such infused knowledge in the human intellect of Christ: St. Paul speaks of all the treasures of God‘s wisdom and science hidden in Christ (Col., ii, 3); Isaias speaks of the spirit of wisdom and counsel, of science and understanding, resting on Jesus (Is., xi, 2); St. John intimates that God has not given His Spirit by measure to His Divine envoy (John, iii, 34); St. Matthew represents Christ as our sovereign teacher (Matt., xxiii, 10). Besides the Divine and the angelic knowledge, most theologians admit in the human intellect of Jesus Christ a science infused per accidens, i.e. an extraordinary comprehension of things which might be learned in the ordinary way, similar to that granted to Adam and Eve (cf. St Thom., III., Q. i, a. 2; QQ. viii-xii; Q. xv, a. 2).
Christ’s Acquired Knowledge.—Jesus Christ had, no doubt, also an experimental knowledge acquired by the natural use of His faculties, through His senses and imagination, just as happens in the case of common human knowledge. To say that His human faculties were wholly inactive would resemble a profession of either Monothelitism or of Docetism. This knowledge naturally grew in Jesus in the process of time, according to the words of Luke, ii, 52: “And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men”. Understood in this way, the Evangelist speaks not merely of a successively greater manifestation of Christ’s Divine and infused knowledge, nor merely of an increase in His knowledge as far as outward effects were concerned, but of a real advance in His acquired knowledge. Not that this kind of knowledge implies an enlarged object of His science; but it signifies that He gradually came to know, after a merely human way, some of the things which He had known from the beginning by His Divine and infused knowledge.
II. EXTENT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST.—It has already been stated that the knowledge in Christ’s Divine nature is co-extensive with God‘s Omniscience. As to the experimental knowledge acquired by Christ, it must have been at least equal to the knowledge of the most gifted of men; it appears to us wholly unworthy of the dignity of Christ that His powers of observation and natural insight should have been less than those of other naturally perfect men. But the main difficulty arises from the question as to the extent of Christ’s knowledge flowing from His beatific vision, and of His infused amount of knowledge. (I) The Council of Basle (Sess. XXII) condemned the proposition of a certain Augustinus de Roma: “Anima Christi videt Deum tam Clare. et intense quam Clare et intense Deus videt seipsum” (The soul of Christ sees God as clearly and intimately as God perceives Himself). It is quite clear that, however perfect the human soul of Christ is, it always remains finite and limited; hence its knowledge cannot be unlimited and infinite. (2) Though the knowledge in the human soul of Christ was not infinite, it was most perfect and embraced the widest range, extending to the Divine ideas already realized, or still to be realized. Nescience of any of these matters would amount to positive ignorance in Christ, as the ignorance of law in a judge. For Christ is not merely our infallible teacher, but also the universal mediator, the supreme judge, the sovereign king of all creation. (3) Two important texts are urged against this perfection of Christ’s knowledge: Luke, ii, 52 demands an advancement in knowledge in the case of Christ; this text has already been considered in the last paragraph. The other text is Mark, xiii, 32: “Of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father.” After all that has been written on this question in recent years, we see no need to add anything to the traditional explanations: the Son has no knowledge of the judgment day which He may communicate; or, the Son has no knowledge of this event, which springs from His human nature as such; or again, the Son has no knowledge of the day and the hour, that has not been communicated to Him by the Father. (See Mangenot in Vigouroux, “Dict. de la Bible“, II, Paris, 1899, 2268 sqq.)
Since the time of the Nestorian controversies, Catholic tradition has been practically unanimous as to the doctrine concerning the knowledge of Christ (cf. Leorius,” Libellus Emendationis”, n. 40; Eulogius Alex., Leporius,” Phot.”, cod. 230, n. 10; S. Gregorius Magnus, lib. X, epp. xxxv, xxxix; Sophron., “Ep. Syn. ad Sergium”; Damascenus, “De Haer.,” n. 85; Nat. Alex., “Hist. Eccl. in se. sext.”, n. 85). As to the Fathers preceding the Nestorian controversy, Leontius Byzantinus simply surrenders their authority to the opponents of our doctrine concerning the knowledge of Christ; Petavius represents it as partly undecided; but the early Fathers may be excused from error, because they wrote mostly against the Arian heresy, so that they endeavored to establish Christ’s Divinity by removing all ignorance from His Divine nature, while they did not care to enter upon an ex professo investigation of the knowledge possessed by His human nature. At that time there was no call for any such study. After the patristic period, Fulgentius (Resp. ad quaest. tert. Ferrandi) and Hugh of St. Victor exaggerated the human knowledge of Christ, so that the early Scholastics asked the question, why God‘s Omniscience could be communicated, while His Omnipotence was incommunicable (Lomb., “Liber Sent.”, III, d. 14). But even at this period, at least a modal difference was admitted to exist between the Omniscience of God and the human knowledge of Christ (cf. Bonay. in III., dist. 13, a. 2). Soon, however, theologians began to limit the human knowledge of Christ to the range of the scientia visionis or of all that actually has been, is, or will be, while God‘s Omniscience embraces also the range of the possibles.
A. J. MAAS